AWD & 4WD Explained

December 19th, 2017 by


Despite the importance of AWD and 4WD for Canadian drivers in Canadian winters, many don’t understand the specific differences, advantages, and disadvantages. So, here’s a brief and boring guide to all things four-wheel drive.

AWD vs. 4WD

All-Wheel Drive usually describes vehicles that drive all four wheels all the time. It has one primary advantage, you get the most grip all the time. You don’t have to worry about whether it’s engaged or not. It is!

Four-Wheel drive is almost the same. Permanent 4WD systems only differ from AWD in that they have “4H” and “4L” settings. However, most 4WD systems are “part-time” and let drivers switch to rear-wheel drive when it is not icy. This allows drivers to get better fuel economy in ideal driving conditions. 

Okay, that’s the simplest explanation about the differences between AWD and FWD, but there is certainly more to learn. Let’s take a look at the FWD options available in most new Fords to better understand the different driving modes.

4H vs 4L

4WD Ford vehicles come with a number of selectable driving modes that can be confusing for beginners. It’s important that you learn when to use each driving mode so that you don’t damage your truck or SUV. 4H is used for slippery conditions, sand, mud, et c… at higher speeds. If the road is icy use 4H. Don’t use 4H on dry pavement. You can switch between 2H and 4H at any speed or at a standstill.

4 Low is used for slippery conditions and steep gradients at low speeds. 4L delivers more torque to your wheels but not necessarily more traction. If you’re pushing through deep snow or mud, you probably want to use 4L. And, remember to slow to 5km or less and shift into neutral before switching to or from 4L.

2H and 4A

2H is just rear-wheel drive. This is the best choice regular conditions. If you’re on dry pavement, use 2H.

Finally, your vehicle may have a 4A or 4 automatic setting. 4A automatically selects the right setting for the road (or mud) conditions. Consequently, 4A it’s good for every driving situation. However, 4A will consume more fuel, so you should manually select 2H on clear, paved roads.

Remember, when changing your driving mode, ease off the gas pedal while you see a “Shift in progress” message for the smoothest shift.

Electronic Locking Differential

Some Ford vehicles also have an electronic locking rear-differential. When engaged, all tires rotate at the exact same rate and there is a direct mechanical link between the front and rear wheels. But during a turn, the inner and outer wheels have different turning radii, meaning they need to rotate at different rates. If the pavement is slick, the wheels can slip and account for the difference. However, if the pavement is dry, you will damage your driveline.


Posted in Ford Technology, Tips